Pagina-afbeeldingen
PDF
ePub

PR

2753

I72

1898

V. 8

PREFATORY NOTE.

My task in writing this short prefatory note to the last volume of this edition of Shakespeare is an easy one, for I have only to commend to the notice of the public the work of my friends. The writer of the Introduction and the Life-my old and valued friend, Dr. Dowdenmade, many years ago, a remark which, when it came to my ears, impressed me much-"An Actor's commentary is his acting." Dr. Dowden criticises keenly, and from a very high stand-point; and in the face of such a truly critical apothegm what can I say but commend its truth, and humbly trust that the form of commentary to which I have devoted my life may have arrested the attention of some that might otherwise not have paused to grasp the lessons which the great English master of thought has spread with such free and beneficent fulness. In the years which have elapsed since we, each in his own way, took this work in hand, I have learned much, and I have to be grateful for many happy hours spent in congenial toil and in friendly communion with both the living and the dead. I am proud that my name should be associated with such a work, and with so many names illustrious in the scholarship of my time.

To those who remain of the staff who undertook and carried on the work, there is one deep, sad note in all their pleasure. The voice that cheered them on their way-the hand most resolute, most untiring in the task-the brain that sought out truth and mastered difficulties and comprehended all the vast ramifications of such a work, are now but memories; the eyes that scanned so lovingly and so jealously the growing work shall never look on its completion. From the first, Frank Marshall set himself down to the editorship of this edition of Shakespeare, as to the magnum opus of his life. The amount of solid, hard work which he did was almost incredible, and could only have been accomplished by an unswerving sense of duty, and an iron resolution

431879

to keep abreast of his task. In the later days, when failing health made such stress of work impossible for him, he found loyal and loving helpers in those other men whose names are given in connection with various portions of the work. One of them, Mr. Arthur Symons, to whose ability and care the completion of the last volume is mainly due, writes of his friend and mine as follows:

[ocr errors]

"The death of Mr. Frank Marshall, to whom this edition of Shakespeare owes its existence, and under whose harassed but unwearying care it had all but reached completion, leaves to others than himself the duty, now a painful one, of writing 'Finis' at the end of a long labour. Had he lived, Mr. Marshall would, no doubt, have had much to say in that General Introduction promised in the first volume, which can now never be said; there were certain corrections, I know, that he had hoped to make, certain acknowledgments of kind help received that he would gratefully and fully have expressed. He might, also, casting a glance over the finished work, have summed up his own feeling of contentment or discouragement before the result of so much toil -of so many hopes. Probably he would have done himself less than justice. A great Shakespeare scholar, at the end of a monumental edition, told a friend that he felt as if his work were but now beginning, and himself but now fully prepared for it. The feeling is inevitable in a world where finality means only the limit of one's own sight. And, in the case of Frank Marshall, there would have been the regret that health and circumstance had not permitted him to finish, single-handed, a work which he had once hoped to carry through without assistance. As it is, the edition remains his achievement-his in spirit, even when other hands have worked under the direction of the kindest and most considerate of editors.”

Every kind thought and just comment thus given on a man of great literary ability, I endorse most heartily. Frank Marshall was a friend of my life. We were brought together and linked by the golden bond of a common love for the Great Englishman whose work he endeavoured to worthily set forth; and from the hour we first met our friendship ripened, till in all the world I had no warmer friend.

At the beginning of this work, I had occasion to speak of Shakespeare as a playwright-as a practical dramatist-as the actor, as well as the poet who constructed plays—playwright first and man of letters afterwards; and here at the close of the work this idea must be the Omega as it was the Alpha of my theme. There is even now in existence a school of criticism, the exponents of which hold that Shakespeare's writing is not for the stage at all. I need not say more of this class here, but pass them by and leave their utterances to the calmer judgment of history. That Shakespeare found his vogue in the form which his genius took for its manifestation we cannot doubt; for it must never be forgotten that he was actor and playwright as well as poetthat even with a knowledge of the strength of the narrative and epic methods, he adhered to the dramatic form which was in great part his contribution to the standards of English poetry. There was, therefore, a peculiar fitness in Mr. Marshall's editing of his work. Until he undertook the task there never was a Shakespearean editor who was himself a playwright; and it was through his knowledge of the practical working of the stage that he was able so to realize every situation. He had a singular skill in clearing up many a difficult passage by his keen sight of the actual appearance to be presented by these characters or those, upon the stage.

Lest there should be any who may say that, in suggesting the deletion of any line of Shakespeare, I myself endeavour to improve his work, let me here say that I do so in loving reverence for his own work, which was to bring home to men by dramatic method the realities of life. Up to Shakespeare's time there was no English drama or stage in the noble form in which we understand it, and we must ever bear in mind that the conditions of life were, in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, different to our own. Nay, more, we may well imagine how even the greater leisure of the Elizabethan age was prolonged to the utmost to multiply the hours of intellectual and emotional delight thus newly given to men. But the times are changed; and the hours for work and rest and recreation have to be so exactly apportioned in our less restful age, that all our duties and pleasures must conform to

them. I have, therefore, only tried to mark, for the use of students, those lines, passages, and scenes which could best be dispensed withif such limitation were desired-without doing unnecessary injury to the thoughts and work of the poet, or to the dramatic bearings of the story of the play.

LONDON, May, 1890.

HENRY IRVING.

« VorigeDoorgaan »